We spent twelve incredible days touring South Africa with our friends. It was a well-rounded vacation that allowed us to experience South Africa's cities, natural beauty, Zulu culture, history, leisure resorts, and game viewing on a safari. It was a trip of a lifetime for me.
Like Traci and me, our friends Patricia and Jeffrey love to travel. We had been talking about doing a South Africa trip together for a couple of years but never got further than just talking and dreaming. Finally, in October 2005, Jeffrey and Patricia took the lead by contacting a travel agent and then sending out an email soliciting interest in a South African vacation. Initially, there were ten of us interested in the trip but in the end, there were six of us who actually went: Patricia, Jeffrey, Susan, Stephanie, Traci, and I.
left to right: Me, Traci, Jeffrey, Patricia, Susan, Stephanie
The six of us were spread across three states: Pennsylvania, Delaware, and California. We spent several months trading emails and holding teleconference calls to nail down the trip itinerary. As long as the trip included a safari, I was happy. By March 2006, we had finalized an itinerary that worked for everyone:
South Africa Vacation 2006 itinerary. Click map for larger view.
We worked with Elite World Tours to plan this trip. It turns out we were actually working with a network of travel agencies that spanned three countries. Elite World Tours (Connecticut, USA) booked our vacation through Goway Travel (Toronto, Canada) who arranged our tours and transfers through Thompsons Africa (South Africa). We encountered some glitches in the months leading up to the trip but by the time we were actually in South Africa, our itinerary flowed exactly as planned. I was especially pleased with Thompsons Africa whose representatives we could always count on to be waiting at the airports holding a sign with our names on it. Additionally, the Thompsons guides were always on time (sometimes early) for our tours and transfers.
South Africa is located at the bottom tip of the continent of Africa. This country is about twice the size of Texas.
Flying from Dulles International Airport in Washington, DC to Johannesburg, South Africa is a 17-hour trip. Susan, Traci, and I flew 8 hours from Dulles to Dakar, Senegal on South African Airlines (SAA) where we waited on the plane for an hour while a new flight crew boarded. Then, we flew 8 hours from Dakar to Johannesburg. Leaving from Dulles instead of Philadelphia saved Traci and me about $800.
Patricia, Jeffrey, and Stephanie were able to take advantage of their air miles on carriers other than South African Airlines. The only drawback to this is that their flights spanned two nights whereas ours only spanned one.
Once we were in South Africa, we all took a number of domestic flights on SAA to get to the places we visited. I enjoyed the domestic flights of SAA much more than I enjoyed their international flight. The international flight was cramped; whereas, the domestic flights were on planes with roomy leather seats.
Since South Africa is below the equator, its seasons are opposite those of North America. We were there in early September which is late winter for South Africa. In general, the weather for this time of year reminded me of the weather in San Francisco. During the day, the weather was mild enough to wear long pants and a short-sleeve shirt. However, the temperature drops about 20 degrees when the sun goes down. We learned to be prepared with a light jacket.
Yes, vaccinations are recommended for visitors to South Africa. We had to get current with all our booster shots plus take shots for diseases like hepatitis A and typhoid. We also had to take a course of malaria pills since we were doing the safari.
All these precautions turned out to be quite expensive for me. My primary physician referred me to a travel medicine clinic. Unfortunately, my medical insurance does not cover travel medicine. My visit to the clinic, the shots, and prescriptions cost me nearly $500. As for Traci, all of her vaccinations and prescriptions were free since she works for a pharmaceutical company. She was able to get all her shots at work.
South Africa has 11 official languages! Fortunately for us, the official language most widely spoken is English.
The currency of South Africa is the South African Rand (ZAR). At the time we were there, 1 rand was equal to approximately $7 U.S.. At this exchange rate, we found most of the goods and services to be relatively cheap.